Repackaging Tradition in Tahiti? Mono‘i and Labels of Origin in French Polynesia

Stevens, Kate
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University of Hawai‘i Press
Center for Pacific Islands Studies
In 1992, Monoï de Tahiti (coconut oil scented with tiare flowers) was granted an appellation d’origine by the French government. It was (and remains) the only cosmetic product to receive such certification, as well as the only appellation in French Polynesia. This article examines mono‘i as cultural heritage and as an industrial product in the territory, and the transformations wrought through gaining the appellation. The appellation d’origine formally recognized and protected the unique environmental and cultural heritage embodied by the oil, which has long been made with Polynesian communities and which has been commercialized since World War II. The production methods enshrined in the appellation laws, however, emphasize industrial manufacturing processes, in tension with both the imagined Pacific heritage marketed to tourists and foreign consumers and the place of mono‘i within Polynesian communities. In navigating between tradition and modernity, this contemporary commodity raises questions of authenticity and invented tradition, as well as questions of who benefits from the repackaging of cultural tradition in French Polynesia. Given that appellations d’origine and geographical indications have recently been touted as tools for indigenous intellectual property, this case study demonstrates both the potential and limits of such legislation for the Pacific more broadly.
Tahiti, French Polynesia, appellation d’origine, geographical indication, intellectual property, coconut oil, tiare
Stevens, K. 2018. Repackaging Tradition in Tahiti? Mono‘i and Labels of Origin in French Polynesia. The Contemporary Pacific 30 (1): 70–106.
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